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Moscow Kicks Off 60th Anniversary Festivities Marking End of WWII

Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcoming leaders from around the world in Moscow for 60th anniversary celebrations marking the end of World War II in Europe.

The festivities got underway Sunday, with Russia's aging veterans gathering for marches and memorial celebrations at various locations across Moscow.

This one, at Belorusky train station downtown, brought out hundreds of veterans to witness a re-enactment of the arrival of a period locomotive train bearing returning Soviet troops on what has been referred to by some as Liberation Day in Europe. Russians who turned out to honor the local veterans chanted, "thank you," as a popular Russian singer belted out old Soviet songs.

Afterward, the veterans marched to their traditional meeting place on the plaza outside the Bolshoi Theater. There, they met with President Putin and leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a grouping of former Soviet republics, who had earlier gathered for a summit on the sidelines of the festivities.

Opening the summit, President Putin said Nazism shared similar ideological roots with terrorism, and, as such, must always be understood and remembered.

In remarks broadcast on Russian television, Mr. Putin said knowing the truth means having immunity against, what he called, the "propaganda of extremism" and ethnic hatred in the future.

But his remarks will likely not appease leaders of the Baltic Republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, who want Russia to apologize for the Soviet annexation of their countries. They say, for their people, the end of the war in Europe was not an end, but a beginning to 50 years of Soviet rule.

President Putin has called Soviet rule of the Baltics a tragedy. But he says Moscow has already apologized.

The thorny issue threatens to sully the Russian president's plans to host a grand party, the likes of which have rarely been seen before in Russia.

More than 50 world leaders are attending Monday's military parade on Red Square. Guests include President Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Still jittery after a series of deadly terrorist attacks in the past few years, blamed on rebel Chechen separatists, Russian authorities have put into place an unprecedented security operation involving 20,000 police. They will be backed up by 2,000 Russian special forces.

In the skies above Moscow, anti-aircraft forces will provide still another layer of protection.

Residents of Moscow have been urged to leave the city for the secure confines of their country homes, or dachas. But for those who do stay in the Russian capital, there will be concerts and parades at parks outside the city center. Monday evening, huge firework displays are planned.

City officials are also going to great lengths to try and ensure good weather for the events, sending out special cloud seeding aircraft to ward off heavy rains. But as of Sunday evening the planes, using technology inherited from the Soviet Union, appear to have done more harm than good, with a cold rain dousing the capital, just as the official delegations began arriving.